For this weekends stravaiging, the plan was to engage with a fairly local mountain, Beinn Bheula, one of the many western hills I can see from close to home. I was especially looking forward to this one because I had read that there was wreckage from a crashed World War 2 plane that could be seen near the summit (sadly there are a few Scottish summits with such debris near the tops).
Beinn Bheula lies on the Cowal Peninsula within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park above Lochgoilhead and is quite small by Scottish mountain standards at a mere 2555 feet. It is classified as a Corbett, meaning that it is between 2500 and 3000 feet high. This is compared to the lofty Munros, which are all above 3000 feet, or the diminutive Grahams, which are between 2000 and 2500 feet high.
The walk in starts near the shore of Loch Goil, and meanders along forestry roads for a fair while. This is a cracking walk in it’s own right – in the sunshine there were birds and insects buzzing, and distant waterfalls and glinting snow presented a stimulating and ever-changing horizon. The craggy face of Beinn Bheula dominates the way ahead.
As the hillside is approached, the easy-going roads are left behind and the route becomes cross-country on grassy trails. The trail is occasionally way-marked with white posts indicating that you are on part of The Cowal Way, another of Scotland’s excellent long-distance walking trails. Navigation skills, a compass and a map are essential as the trail is indistinct in places.
The Lettermay Falls proved to be an ideal way-point, with it’s initially distant mumbling becoming a hearty gushing roar as one approached. A rest stop at the base of the falls offered beautifully hazy views back towards the eastern hills beyond Loch Goil. After map check, I discovered a hidden lochain (a small loch, sometimes man-made) beyond the head of the falls and I enjoyed a detour up the hill beside the falls, following the burn all the way to it’s source at Curra Lochain.
It was very tempting to pull my boots and socks off to enjoy a wee dip after a strenuous pull up the hillside! As I reached the lochain, my route diverged from the Cowal Way which followed the north shore of the waters, while I continued south toward the Beinn.
As I gained height the crags of Caisteal Dubh – the Black Castle – loomed into view. It was interesting being up close and personal with the rocky features, having only observed their jagged outline from a distance.
My planned route should have taken me up this gully and the final push before the summit was reached, but there was a lot more snow remaining on face than I had anticipated and after an exploratory ascent I gave up! I had not packed my crampons nor ice axe, and didn’t fancy bum-sliding to an epic doom, so I opted for a detour around the rocks to the right.
Before long the summit cairn was reached, an unusual cylindrical Ordnance Survey trig point – not the typical obelisk shaped ones – and a handy cairn shelter which offered respite from the chilly wind and an opportunity to unfold the map for a good nosy at the surrounding features, and to check the direction of my descent.
Views from the summit were excellent – I love being so high up, and it is often surprising how the most rewarding views aren’t always from the highest summits. I always am amazed by the way the clouds expose their flattened bases as one gains heights, as if they are scudding along on a different plane of existence from us wee folk down amongst the peat, stone and soil. To the east, a glimpse of Loch Goil can be seen, and the dark silhouette of Ben Donich in the center with the Arrochar hills beyond.
After a while, I began descending, taking a different route that would loop west then south, curving around the summit to aim back towards the start via the waypoint of Lochain nan Cnaimh (Loch of Bone?). The route took me toward the aircraft wreckage – the remains of a Grumman Martlett fighter plane that tragically crashed on the mountain in 1940. While sad, this is fascinating social history, and I like to think of the pilgrimage up the mountain to be a worthy way of paying respect.
This photo shows part of the fuselage and undercarriage.
Here is the front of the aircraft engine, where the propeller would have been mounted.
Finally, I found part of the right wing. I pondered this piece for a moment, thinking about the pilot Lieutenant Godfrey Russell. The RAF roundel insignia, although faded, can still be distinguished on the surface.
After some quiet reflection, I continued the descent toward Lochain nan Cnaimh, where I was able to rejoin the forestry tracks through a freshly-felled plantation, smelling firs and timber, and before long I rejoined the main path and returned to the start point.
Beinn Bheula has turned out to be one of my most enjoyable and memorable hillwalking days. It had a little bit of everything – fantastic and varied terrain, fabulous views, abundant wildlife and, of course, relics from a bygone war. I was fortunate that the weather was sunny and warm for most of the day, and will definitely return to this part of the National Park to enjoy this area again.